Red Letter Days. Sarah Jane Stratford. Penguin Publishing Group. February 2020. pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780451475572.
In the late 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy began what came to be known as the “Red Scare.” Halfway through that period, even after Senator McCarthy had to withdrawn from the HUAC or House of Un-American Activities Committee, the Committee was still holding trials of those who were blacklisted for an association with either the Communist or Red Party others associated with the same party. The source of most of their information were lists of people who named others so that they would be released and cleared of being a Red. This is the story of two women writers who were blacklisted, one (Phoebe Adler) of whom had escaped a subpoena by fleeing to England. Phoebe must work as a script writer in order to financially support her very ill sister living in a health sanitarium. After she gets blacklisted based on someone else’s false confession, she leaves for England and begins, thanks to the helpfulness of Hannah, a woman who has hired several blacklisted writers and producers. The choice was this escape or trial and jail plus heft financial fines. However, note that Phoebe and Hannah are very good writers!
The travesty of those who did not escape is that their careers were totally ruined. But thee exiles got a second chance. Eventually some were arrested in England, brought back to American and made to appear before the HUAC. Some thanks to strong supporters made it through and returned to England but the story still needed to be told because of the hell they went through, like Phoebe, in the long anxiety-producing, fearful process or journey. Sarah-Jane Stratford has certainly done a great deal of research and this novel is a poignant account of that experience for far too many writers, actors, producers and directors accused of being Communists.
There is also a subplot of the role of married women who chose to work after the war and who therefore were considered to be unfeminine. Some stuck it out; some wound up divorced. These women were assuming roles for the first time that Americans were not always willing to accept. The novel also contains some very funny moments as scripts are being prepared for the TV production of Robin Hood and another for The Legend of Lancelot.
Remarkable, intelligent, adventurous, and engaging historical fiction that is well-crafted, fascinating and highly readable. A must read! Enjoy!